A photograph of a Cornish landscape with a large boulder which has an arm wrapped around it

Thinking and Practise on the ten year anniversary of the recognition of the Cornish as a National Minority

Artist Sovay Ber­ri­man shares what the Cor­nish Nation­al Minor­i­ty Sta­tus means to her.


October 2023

Wetted slimy gum-strip glides through my fingers and crushed cardboard packaging balances on my knee.

The gum-strip is a paper tape that arrives at my studio wrapped tightly into neat rolls. It is dry and slightly stiff; one side dull, while the other is shiny with an adhesive that is activated by moisture.

The dry tape unfurls easily and curls like ribbons around my feet. But in older spools, that have succumbed to the Cornish humidity, the tape fuses together. Paper lifting away from the adhesive which itself fixes to the back of the paper below. This leads to clumping, which I slowly peel and pick away at until I again reach free flowing dryer tape.

On this day I’m tearing off strips of approximately one metre in length. I take one end of a strip between the fingers and thumb of my left hand and pull the strip through a stainless steel pool of water. The fore and middle fingers of my right hand straddle the three and a half centimetre width of tape, so that as my left hand draws the tape through the water, the fore and middle fingers of my right hand remove any excess. The gum strip doesn’t want to be sodden, just wet enough to stick.

My hands bring the slimy gum strip over to the reclaimed cardboard balancing on my knee.

My left hand holds one end of the tape while my right hand smooths out the remainder, stroking it across and around the irregular shapes of the beaten-up packaging.

A photograph of a Cornish landscape with a large boulder which has an arm wrapped around it
A close of a person holding a wet, white strip of gum tape over a tray of water

I lean over to tear off another metre of dry, soon to be wet paper tape. I again use the thumb and middle fingers of my left hand to clamp one end of the tape; fingers and tape go back into the water, and again the fingers of the right hand remove the excess.

I repeat this task, over and over, wrapping more and more of the crushed cardboard in tape. Creeping fingers guiding the silky tape around the haphazard mass of corners, curves, crevices and cracks. Joining one element to another, climbing mounds, traversing ravines, delving into dips and dents; the jumble of material beginning to take on a more solid shape.

I continue with this process until the entire surface of the matter that is teetering and tottering on my lap is covered and bound.

This is both decisive and intuitive work. I am making multiple choices about surface and shape. How to retain the unique form created by the scrunched and squashed cardboard packaging, whilst ensuring that once dry, the tape is sufficiently tightly layered to hold the form of what is becoming a rock sculpture.

The taut skin provided by the gum strip needs to be robust enough to receive a multitude of painted colour, from both thoughtful and enthusiastic brush strokes and jabs.

A close of a person wrapping a cardboard shape with lots of strips of white gum tape. There are other cardboard shapes nearby that have already been wrapped

These rock sculptures I’m making are also being made by my niece Tegen Berriman, and artists Delpha Hudson and Anna Harris, who are all assisting me in preparation for my Flamm commission Gwyrdh Glas | Liwyow a Gernow (tr. Green Green | Colours of Cornwall) which is showing in Redruth’s Market Hall and at Lowender Celtic Festival over the last two weekends of October 2023.

Gwyrdh Glas is part of my wider project MESKLA | Brewyon Drudh (tr. Mussel Gathering | Precious Fragments) which is a multi-platform artwork that uses sculpture and conversation to explore contemporary Cornish cultural identity and its relationship with heritage, land and extraction industries, including tourism.

In my studio we’re working surrounded by remnants of previous MESKLA workshops and exhibitions from 2022 and 2023. Repurposed copper plumbing pipe is clipped high above us on the walls. It has been bent and soldered into a disjointed, scattered framework that hosts a number of brightly coloured sculptures hanging from thread and wool. Torn bin bags and bursting boxes amass in one corner. Rising to the ceiling they bulge with materials collected from the Cornwall Scrapstore and donated by project contributors.

Responsible use of resources has been key to my practice from the beginning. Whether informed by situation or ethics, a culture of thriftiness persists and is written into the MESKLA strategy. Whilst having an activist element to it, this also felt instinctively like a very Cornish approach, using what we have and ‘getting-on’ in whatever the current situation might be. A tenacity and pragmatism, married to an inventive idealism. In relation to our cultural and linguistic heritage there’s a lot that has been reclaimed and revisioned, building upon the fragments that have been passed on.

UNESCO classifies varying global cultural heritage elements as needing to be safeguarded within its 2003 convention of Intangible Cultural Heritage, or Living Heritage. These could include specific midwifery, cooking or craft practices, passed down from generation to generation, or indigenous languages and cultural festivals. The convention allows for safeguarding of culture and mitigating the constant risk of loss of heritage, and it is largely community-informed.

The safeguarding of an element can be orchestrated or supported by the state party, but this often occurs at the point that the element has come to notice through its endangerment or its imminent extinction, and sometimes when it’s too late.
Joanne Orr, Practitioner Perspectives on Intangible Cultural Heritage, 2024

Some people sat on a wooden bench watching a film projected on a screen that is positioned between two red metal poles. In the foreground are some colourful painted shapes placed around a wooden structure that encompasses another red pole

It is not too late for Cornish culture, research and awareness raising is carried out by a number of projects, including Lowender and Re-Voice. I invited bards of the Gorsedh to discuss this and how the resurgence of culture and language grew through the 20th Century, and continues to bloom in the 21st, in the first episode of the MESKLA podcast. In episode two - which is in two parts because a storm brought public transport and internet connections to a standstill, prohibiting guests from being together for the recording - artists Libita Sibungu, Georgia Gendall and Liam Jolly discuss how their relationship to Kernow, its land, culture and history, plays out in their practises.

Conversations such as these continue through MESKLA podcasts, workshops, symposia and exhibitions. Guests and participants contribute from within and beyond Kernow, providing an ever expanding context for our conversations and Cornish cultural identity. The dialogues are, as with the MESKLA sculptures, curious and meandering; shifting in pace and rhythm, claiming space for processing, reflection and just being.

Shared conversation and making are core to MESKLA, both practically and politically. Discussions reach into issues of authenticity, fractured culture, the links between identity, land and labour, indigeneity, language and living heritage. Always encouraging our making and talking to twist through historic and future thinking about Kernow’s relationships and legacies around the globe. Acknowledging the danger of resting in the romantic; and the responsibility to the narratives, presence and histories that have been denied, obscured and othered.

Through the summer of 2023 people were invited to paint the cardboard rocks (made as described above) during Gwyrdh Glas | Liwyow a Gernow workshops and making sessions, hosted through Hospital Rooms’ Cornwall Project, Krowji’s Fun Palaces and of course at Redruth’s International Pasty and Mining Festival. Colours were mixed and given names by contributors based on their relationship with the land of Kernow. The names were translated from Sowsnek/English to Kernewek/Cornish using dictionaries loaned by Kowethas an Yeth Kernewek.

Those new-names are being shared with Cornwall Council’s Cornish Language Service, who are ensuring they make sense within the agreed rules of Kernewek, the Cornish language. The new colour names will then be brought together in a handbook entitled Liwyow a Gernow/Colours of Cornwall. We hope that they will be added to the Korpus Kernewek/Cornish Corpus so that people can refer to and use those colours in future.

Already translated and submitted to the Korpus is Gathering Precious Fragments: Reassembling Cornish Heritage Through MESKLA | Brewyon Drudh by Sefryn Penrose and Angela Piccini of ButCH/*. Commissioned as part of the evaluation process of the first year of MESKLA the text responds to the work of 2022.

Conversations had with participants are woven together with ButCH/*’s observations and historic developments and research. A network of translators worked together to agree phrasing and vocabulary, and new language has evolved.

Having the entire text translated into Cornish has pushed the Translation Service to the limit – but it was done. The ‘new’ words in Cornish were passed through the Terminology Group and duly entered into the on-line dictionary.

So what? Well, Kernewek grows, more artists and more of the Cornish public get to meet their indigenous language and even Google Translate gets better. Meur ras dhe Sovay.
Pol Hodge, translator

This work is an act of democratising how culture is created and owned; allowing new means of access and questioning how we can infiltrate systems and structures in a way that can reverberate further, beyond the artwork and beyond more established and sometimes formal mechanisms of cultural safeguarding. We have a living culture, but one that can be obfuscated by the rose-tinted commodification it has been subject to for a century or more.

Colourful painted colour swatches on a white sheep of paper. There is handwritten names for the colours next to the paint, including 'raspberry chocolate'

April 2024: The 10th Anniversary of Westminster Government recognising the Cornish as a National Minority

In 2014 the UK Government announced that it was accepting the long-standing case advanced by me and others (including Ian Saltern and John Angarrack) to declare the Cornish a national minority for the purposes of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. This places the Cornish on a par with Scots, Irish, Welsh, Manx, and Roma.
Bert Biscoe, Bard, Politician and Poet

I always felt I was Cornish rather than English. I can’t remember anyone telling me that, I suppose they might have at some point when I asked if I was, in the same way that one of my nieces asked me. How I feel I am Cornish is through my body, how the language, dialect and various accents have reverberated through it; through scrambling and slipping and scraping my skin on the rocks of beaches and carns, eager to sit in granite squeezed by giants as much as to spot mussels and anemones in tidal pools; through eating countless pasties, and never leaving my crimping for the knockers - ‘cause that’s the best bit and everyone knows it. I could equally list how the lack of public services, low wages, limited and poor housing, and high cost of living have worked into my bones as much as the wind and damp. Twisting me like a gnarly Hawthorn holding firm to a hedge in the high blown-out places of Carrick, Kerrier and Penwith.

Connection to place is not particular to Kernow or to me. It resonates around the globe. Many MESKLA participants have shared how important Cornish culture is to them, how it is a way that they communicate, beyond words or language, who they are.

Although an embodied relationship to place is not the preserve of ancestral connection. Through the MESKLA conversations I have heard people speak of how they chose Kernow, and in some cases a strong sense that Kernow chose them - that this place called to them and they knew it was home, regardless of ancestry or where they were born or schooled.

The certain-ness of my Cornishness is informed by both my ancestral and experiential connection. I wonder sometimes if the solidness of that identity and of the land of Kernow provided an antidote to aspects of precariousness and othering within my family experience. This confusion and tension is explored through much of my work, most recently my short story Catching Copper and film Gwyrdh Glas.

Thinking, feeling and making around home and identity, how notions of home can be multiple with layers of cultural and locational experience, is considered through the work of Dr Joanie Willet, Maria Christofirodou, Areej Kaoud, Jowan Nute and dhaqan collective. These artists and scholars consider experiences of diaspora, dislocation, decolonisation, resistance, persistence, joy and hope; and are informing the next phase of the MESKLA project which I am currently fundraising for to run into Spring 2025.

A women in green coat and plaid dress stands smiling for the camera on a rocky hill, surrounded by nature.

Making and Thinking

I think through making, and make through a multi-layered and constellational practice. New works create learning and opportunity for my thoughts and knowledge to be challenged and expanded. While MESKLA | Brewyon Drudh actively looks at relationships with land, place and identity to seek common ground, it also proposes and models inclusive ways forward that acknowledge diverse ancestral histories and contemporary experience.

I am currently writing from Glasgow, where I am undertaking a secondment at National Theatre Scotland as part of my Clore Fellowship. Through this programme I am thinking and having conversation about how creative processes could have greater influence over policy, governance and strategy within the arts. I believe that leadership can be fluid and rhythmical, and that this is what we need to create and share caring, inclusive and thoughtful futures. The arts and cultural sector is well placed to test greater and swifter change in how we apportion and measure power. In how we make decisions, collaborate, plan, remember and bring energy and voices into activity and motion.

In a post-brexit world, Kernow has an important part to play in this. Celebrating Cornish Minority Status and Cultural identity is empowering and joyful, it is also a way to name responsibility. A request to England and the wider UK to hear, recognise and respect our story in the way that we tell it. And to Kernow, to own its relationship with the world not only as a colonised culture, acknowledging that our heritage of invention and influence supported exploitation and violence. It is essential that Kernow is outward facing, looking to make reparation and reconnection beyond our coastline, as peers with shared and vastly different experiences. By doing so we model another way to lead, be, create and care.

A stack of books with a colourful yellow and orange drawing on the cover and the title 'Catching Copper'.

Who else do I want to shout about?

I love art in general, and love seeing, hearing about and being around other artists' work. It’s very deliberate that I develop projects that have space for other voices, approaches and perspectives. All this fuels and inspires my thinking, and making is how I think.

In addition to the many artists who have contributed to MESKLA and who I have been really lucky to work with, I also want to give a big shout out to Dean Knight, Mary Claire Hammon, Bridgette Ashton and Hutamaki Wab. All artists based in Kernow, all committed to pushing their own work and creative conversations within and around art, all of whom give me rich food for thought. I also want to give a big highlight to the late Sara Bowler, my friend, collaborator, colleague and mentor. Sara moved to Kernow in the mid 2000s and wholeheartedly committed to art and life here, generously sharing knowledge, experience and connections with many artists. Kernow was her home and she loved it.

Various colourful objects hang from the ceiling, are placed on a parquet floor and against different temporary structures
Three women sitting in a room surrounded by colourful objects and shapes.  They are speaking to a seated crowd and smiling


1. Practitioner Perspectives on Intangible Cultural Heritage by Joanne Orr

2. Wages are around 80 per cent of the national average, leading to families and children living in poverty. The rurality of the county means that people have large transport costs, and almost half of the population are not on the mains gas network, compared to 14 per cent nationally. The county also experiences high numbers of excess deaths in the winter months.
Responding to cost of living challenges: Cornwall Council, An interview with Rachel Wigglesworth, Director of Public Health, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly, March 2023

3. My Cornish identity has always been powerful to me, giving me stability in an unstable world. From a teen I connected to my Cornish identity as something pagan, elemental, anti-establishment and anti-colonial. I didn’t need acceptance or inclusion from people, in any community, for that identity I had Inherited from the land of my ancestors, (which) gave me so much strength and independence. I recognise the huge privilege and gift I have through that experience and I hold on to it as it helped me survive the mainly misogynist, heteronormative, homophobic, classist, and ableist society I grew up in.
The Redruth Story Book by Sovay Berriman, The Writers Block


Cornish National Minority, Cornwall Council

UK Government Announcement on Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage: What does it mean for Cornish Music and Dance?

Re-voicing Cultural Landscapes, Falmouth University

University of Exeter Institute of Cornwall Studies

A Cornish Autonomist’s Manifesto – Deryvadow Omrewlyas Kernow, Sordya

A Brief History of the Cornish Language, its Revival and its Current Status by Siarl Ferdinand

Why Cornwall is resurrecting its indigenous language, BBC

Cornish Dictionary